Magazine: Bass Player
Issue: July/August 1995
Title: Paul McCartney - Meet The Beatle
Author: Tony Bacon

"I'm one of the least technical people you're likely to meet," 
says Paul McCartney. There we are, chatting in Paul's studio in 
Sussex, southeast England, and to be honest this admission of 
non-technicality comes as a bit of a blow. 

We had set up this interview to talk about Paul's place in the 
history of bass guitars and bass playing, to help the research 
that Barry Moorhouse and I were doing for *The Bass Book* 
[Miller Freeman], and we were hoping Paul would give us the 
lowdown on just what basses he used when and why--the 
technical stuff. As it turned out, though, we had a much more 
interesting chat on how he felt about playing bass in the most 
famous band in the world, and we talked about events from 
the early days of the fledgling Beatles right through to current 
projects, including the new Beatles "reunion" tracks.

Deep in the Sussex countryside, a few hours' drive out of 
London, your car eventually noses up the correct secluded 
drive to the McCartney studio, a converted mill that has a 
warm, friendly atmosphere. When we met, Paul was working 
on a big orchestral piece for EMI's 100th anniversary in 1997.

As you wait for McCartney to arrive, you can't help but notice 
the clear ambiance of the studio's owner and his impressive 
history at every step: here an aging map of Liverpool on the 
wall, there a yellow sticky with a note to call George Martin, 
over in the corner a big old acoustic bass propped against the 

Paul arrives. As he walks in I suddenly become aware of 
wearing a big, inane grin. *This is Paul McCartney!* screams 
one half of my brain. *Stop grinning like an idiot and say 
something*, insists the other. McCartney has encountered this 
many, many times, of course. He ignores the inane grin, shakes 
my hand, grins himself so I don't feel alone, and steers me to a 
seat. Within seconds he has picked up the upright, which I now 
notice is painted gold, and announces that "my wife, Linda" 
bought it as a present, and that it used to belong to Elvis 
Presley's original bassman, Bill Black. Paul sings two verses of 
"Heartbreak Hotel" by way of getting acquainted.

So how un-technical are you, then, Paul? He's still singing. 
"Down at the end of lonely street, er ... I went into a guitar shop 
in America a few years ago," he replies, putting down the big 
bass, "and some guy said, 'What kind of bass strings do you use, 
Paul?' I said, 'Long shiny ones.'

"I don't know the model names of basses," he laughs, "I don't 
know about amps, I don't know about serial numbers. People 
say to me [adopts haughty voice]: 'I've got a *fantastic* L35.' I 
say, 'Oh... yeah?' It could be a motorbike for all I know. I'm 
just not like that, you know? With us it was always just Vox, 
Hofner--I never really got into the analytical end of it."

This, I have to tell you, appears in my experience to be a 
common feeling among Famous Musicians. There is this 
sneaking suspicion that if you analyze it, well... you just might 
destroy whatever it is that enables you to do the fantastic 
things you do. So I'm not about to press the great man too 
much on his self-analysis. But you started out as a guitarist, 
Paul, didn't you?

"I would have been about 15 or something, and me Dad bought 
me a trumpet," he says, "because a trumpet was kind of a 
heroic instrument at that time, [due to the movie] *The Man 
with the Golden Arm* and all that. Me dad had been a trumpet 
player, so he showed me a bit. But I realized I couldn't sing 
with the trumpet, and I wanted to sing as well, so I asked him 
if he wouldn't mind if I traded it in for a guitar."

So the young McCartney picked up a Zenith acoustic and started 
to learn to play guitar. But he soon realized that something was 
wrong. The guitar was right-handed; Paul was left-handed. "I 
didn't know what you did about that," he recalls. "Nobody 
talked about being left-handed. So I tried it right-handed, and 
I couldn't get any rhythm because it was the wrong hand doing 
it. Then I saw a picture of [singer/guitarist] Slim Whitman in 
one of the music papers, and I noticed--hang on, he's got the 
guitar on the wrong way 'round. I found out he was left-
handed, so I thought, That's good, you can have it the other 
way 'round. Then I changed the strings around. So that was the 
first thing.

"I met John and George about the same time. George used to get 
on the same bus; we got to chatting because he had an interest 
in guitars and music like I did, and we kind of hung out and 
became good friends. Meanwhile I'd met John through another 
friend of mine, and he'd asked me to join the Quarrymen, 
which was my very first group. I went in as lead guitarist, 
really, because I wasn't bad on guitar. When I wasn't onstage I 
was even better--but when I got up onstage my fingers all 
went very stiff and found themselves underneath the strings 
instead of on top of them. So I vowed that first night that that 
was the end of my career as the lead guitar player.

"Then we went to play in Hamburg, Germany, and I'd bought a 
Rosetti Solid Seven electric guitar in Liverpool before we went. 
It was a terrible guitar. It was really just a good-looking piece 
of wood. It had a nice paint job, but it was a disastrous, cheap 
guitar. It fell apart when I got to Hamburg--the sweat and the 
damp and the getting knocked around, falling over and stuff. So 
in Hamburg, with my guitar bust, I turned to the piano.

"Stu Sutcliffe was a friend of John Lennon's--they were at art 
school together--and Stu had won a painting competition. The 
prize was 75 quid [about $150]. We said to him, 'That's exactly 
the price of a Hofner bass!' He said, 'It's supposed to be for 
painting materials,' but we managed to persuade him over a 

Sutcliffe became the Beatles' bass player after his prize money 
had been handed over the counter at Hessy's music shop in 
Liverpool for a lovely new Hofner 500/5 bass, a full-size 
hollowbody model. "It kind of dwarfed him a bit," says Paul. 
"He was a smallish guy, but it looked kind of heroic. He stood a 
certain way, he had shades, he looked the part--but he wasn't 
that good a player. He hadn't played anything up to buying that 
bass. Any of our mates could look at the group and spot it; any 
of the guys who were in groups like us--King Size Taylor & the 
Dominoes, the Big Three--they would just spot it, and they'd 
say: 'Lousy bass player, man.'"

Sometimes they'd even find themselves telling the hapless Stu 
to turn away if there was someone taking photos, because they 
didn't want the more sharp-eyed to notice that Sutcliffe might 
very well be playing in the wrong key. A bit paranoid? Well, 
Paul remembers that the first thing they'd do when they saw a 
photo of a band in action was to check out the fingering on the 
guitars. "We always used to look for that, and I still do," he 
laughs. "You know: to see if Elvis could play guitar, in [the 
movie] *The Girl Can't Help It* or whatever it was. He's doing a 
*D* and..." McCartney twists his head to look at an imaginary 
picture, "...yes, it's all right. Whereas with some people you 
could tell they couldn't play; it was just a prop. That was one of 
the things we used to love about guys in the audience: the girls 
would look at *us*; the guys would look at the *chords*. We'd 
nudge each other, 'Look, *look*, this guy down here.' He'd be 
looking deadly serious at you, and you could see him copping 
all the chords."

And so in our chronology of the early Beatles, Stu Sutcliffe is 
now the bass player--like it or not. "None of us wanted to be 
the bass player," admits Paul. "It wasn't the #1 job: we wanted 
to be up front. In our minds, it was the fat guy in the group 
who nearly always played the bass, and he stood at the back. 
None of us wanted that; we wanted to be up front singing, 
looking good, to pull the birds."

The Beatles played a second grueling season of gigs in Hamburg 
in mid-1961. "Stu said he was going to stay in Hamburg. He'd 
met a girl and was going to stay there with her and paint," Paul 
remembers. "So it was like, Uh-oh, we haven't got a bass 
player. And everyone sort of turned 'round and looked at me. I 
was a bit lumbered with it, really--it was like, 'Well ... it'd 
better be you, then.' I don't think you would have caught John 
doing it; he would have said: 'No, you're kidding, I've got a nice 
new Rickenbacker!' I was playing piano and didn't even have a 
guitar at the time, so I couldn't really say that I wanted to be a 

You may have seen the Beatles' Hamburg period portrayed in 
the movie *Backbeat*, and in one scene McCartney's character 
picks up Sutcliffe's right-handed bass and plays it left-handed 
and upside down. Did you really do that, Paul? "I did, yes. I had 
to! Guys wouldn't let you change their strings around," he 
laughs. "When John wasn't there, I'd pick up his guitar and play 
it upside down. John did that [with my guitar] as well--he got 
pretty good playing upside down because of me.

"I haven't seen *Backbeat*, but I did see a clip where John's 
character sings 'Long Tall Sally,' which is a piss-off for me 
because that's a bit of my history. I was the guy who did 'Long 
Tall Sally,' and there was no reason why the John character 
should have sung that--he had plenty of raunchy, rocking 
songs that they could have had him sing. It'd be like having 
Elvis sing 'Anyone Who Had a Heart.' What's that all about? 
And Dionne Warwick doesn't do 'Heartbreak Hotel.'"

Paul had to find a bass guitar of his own, so one day in 1961 he 
went shopping in Hamburg. "Eventually I found a little shop in 
the center of town, and I saw this violin-shaped bass guitar in 
the window." This was the famous "violin bass," a Hofner 
500/1, made in Germany and similar in shape to Gibson's early 
Electric Bass model. McCartney recalls buying his first violin 
bass for the equivalent of about $45, and he insists it was a 
right-handed model that he turned upside down, although all 
the photographic evidence of the band in those early years 
shows him with a production left-hander. McCartney has had a 
number of different versions of the Hofner 500/1 over the 
years, but he stuck to the model as his sole Beatles live-
performance bass as well as the principal bass for the group's 
recordings until late in the '60s.

Paul still owns a Hofner from the Beatles days (see photos), and 
he still uses it for touring. He had it repaired recently by 
Mandolin Bros. in New York. "They put it in tune for the first 
time in its life," he says proudly. "My man John [Hammel] took 
it over. Before, the [open] E could be in tune but the 3rd-fret G 
on that string was always a little bit sharp, so as soon as you'd 
gone to the 3rd fret you were out. I was using it on a big tour, 
so it was a bit embarrassing. I hadn't used it for a long time for 
that reason, but I got it all sorted out."

Paul has noticed in old footage of him playing the Hofner that 
he tended to use it differently than basses from other makers. 
"Because the Hofner's so light you play it a bit like a guitar--all 
that sort of high trilling stuff I used to do, I think, was because 
of the Hofner. When I play a heavier bass like a Fender, it sits 
me down a bit and I play just bass. But I noticed in the *Let It 
Be* film that I play the Hofner right up there in 'Get Back' or 
something. I think it was just because it was such a light little 
guitar that it led you to play anywhere on it. Really, it led you 
to be a bit freer."

I wondered if Paul had found that bass lines and the bass 
player's frame of mind came easily when he moved over to 
bass in the Beatles? Did he listen to other bass players much? 
"Funnily enough, I'd always liked bass," he says. "As I said, me 
dad was a musician, and I remember him giving me little 
lessons--not actual sit-down lessons, but maybe there'd be 
something on the radio and he'd say, 'Hear that low stuff? 
That's the bass.' I remember him actually pointing out what 
bass was, and he'd do little lessons in harmony. So when I came 
to the Beatles, I had a little bit of musical knowledge through 
him--very amateur.

"Then I started listening to other bass players--mainly 
Motown. As time went on, James Jamerson became my hero, 
although I didn't actually know his name until quite recently. 
Jamerson and later Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys were my 
two biggest influences: James because he was so good and 
melodic, and Brian because he went to very unusual places. 
With the Beach Boys, the band might be playing in *C*, but the 
bass might stay on the *G* just to hold it all back. I started to 
realize the power the bass player had within the band. Not 
vengeful power--it was just that you could actually control it. 
So even though the whole band is going along in *A*, you could 
stick in *E*," he says, and sings an insistent, repeated bass note. 
"And they'd say: 'Let us off the hook!' You're actually in control 
then--an amazing thing. So I sussed that and got particularly 
interested in playing the bass."

"Interested" is something of an understatement. Gradually, the 
bass parts became more and more important to the melodic 
and harmonic development of the Beatles' recorded songs, and 
McCartney's thoughtful and often unconventional approach 
began to liberate the bass from its traditional role of simply 
providing unexciting and unchallenging roots beneath the 
chord progression. Not only that, Paul's engaging bass lines 
began to be pushed further forward in the mixes, and the 
band's interest in recording matters became almost as 
revolutionary as their composing skills.

"In the studio," Paul remembers, "it was very much us and 
them in the beginning. You just entered by the tradesman's 
entrance, set up your stuff, did your session, and left by the 
tradesman's entrance. We were hardly ever asked to come up 
to the control room. Maybe at the end of a session it would be 
[adopts plummy upper-class British accent]: 'Would you like to 
come up and hear it, boys?' 'Oh *could* we? Thank you, 
He describes the atmosphere at EMI's recording studio at 
Abbey Road in north London as very prim and proper in the 
first years that the Beatles recorded there with producer 
George Martin. "Engineers had to wear shirts and ties, and all 
the maintenance men had white coats," Paul remembers. "But it 
wasn't such a bad thing, in fact. It was organized, and there 
was no element of laid-back about it.

"We hardly ever worked in the evening, actually--only later 
did we get into those evening sessions. We mainly worked the 
two day-sessions, so it was down to the pub in the evening to 
talk about our exploits. And when you think about how people 
drive themselves mad recording now, going crazy, up all night, 
still up doing funny things at 6 in the morning--for us, it was 
like a job."

It seems remarkable today when you consider that the recording regime 
even led the back to record tracks as diverse as the blasting rocker "I'm 
Down" and the soothing balld "Yesterday" during the same day's session. 
How did they cope with that? We just had to," McCartney says, shrugging his 
shoulders. "Just did it. Sing the rocker, that's done; 
sing the ballad. And you seemed to have plenty of time for it--it's that 
law that whatever time they give you is enough. We had to be 
there at 10, ready to go at 10:30. So you'd let yourselves in, 
test your amps, get yourselves in tune. It didn't take long--as 
long as you knew you weren't going to fart around, it takes 
about half an hour to do that.

"And then George [Martin] would be there [adopts another 
plummy voice]: 'Right chaps, what are you going to do?' We'd 
sit around for about 20 minutes, and John and I normally 
would just show everyone what the song was. In the early days 
we all knew, because it was from the stage act. The record with 
'Twist and Shout' on it was actually done from 10 in the 
morning till 10:30 at night. *[Ed. Note: This was the first Beatles 
LP, released in the U.K. as *Please Please Me* and in the U.S. as 
*Introducing the Beatles*. During the period from 1963 to 
1967, the U.S. Beatles albums were significantly different from 
the U.K. albums. See discography, page 34.]* We just stayed all 
day and did the whole album. That was a bit of a stretch, and 
John's voice... by the end of 'Twist and Shout,' he couldn't have 
done another song. You can hear it on the record; it was just 
ripped. But we liked that. As long as we had a day off after, no 
problem. Nobody ever took stuff for their throats, or did scales, 
and we never rehearsed. It was very, very loose, but we'd been 
playing so much together as a club act that we just sort of 
knew it. It would bore us to rehearse too much. We knew the 
songs, so we'd get quite a lot done at those sessions."

Listening back to the early Beatles albums now, there are only 
a few bass parts that stand out, but they clearly foreshadow 
the emergence of Paul's mature playing style around the time 
of *Rubber Soul*, recorded in late 1965. *[Ed. Note: For more on 
the development of McCartney's style, see page 30.]* On the 
early material, the problem is often not so much Paul's playing 
but the ill-defined recorded sound of the bass. Even so, on the 
songs recorded in the winter of 1962P63, it's hard not to be 
impressed by the sheer energy of the bass playing on "I Saw 
Her Standing There," nor can an informed listener fail to notice 
the growing awareness of light and shade within "Please Please 
Me" and "A Taste of Honey." By the spring of 1964, there is a 
new confidence evident in the bass on tracks like "I'm Happy 
Just to Dance with You," while "When I Get Home" sounds like 
someone beginning to revel in the sheer sound of his 

"Unlike people now, we were very keen that every track 
sounded different," Paul remembers of the Beatles' prime 
studio days. "We thought in singles, see. People now think in 
albums; in fact, they think in CDs. When John and I wrote, we 
were always writing singles. So our albums, right up to *Sgt. 
Pepper*, were albums of singles. It was like numbers going into 
a hat, and someone might pull your number out--a bit of a 
lottery, really: 'Oh, I'm the single, great.' We thought the 
Supremes were a bit boring; it always sounded like the same 
song, or very near. They were trying to keep that Motown-
Supremes sound. Well, we *weren't* trying to keep the Beatles 
sound; we were always trying to move on. We were always 
trying to get a new sound on every single thing we did."

A lot of this invention was necessarily spontaneous. In the 
early sessions, when the band was trying to squeeze out a 
couple of songs (or more) in a day, there was no time for 
philosophizing. As Paul puts it, nobody had a cup of tea and sat 
around thinking about what to do. He considers for a second 
and then starts to sing, "If you wear red tonight" from "Yes It 

Paul explains: "You'd immediately walk over to the piano with 
George Martin, and he'd say, 'What was the melody you were 
singing, Paul?' I remember that one from 'Yes It Is,' because 
John would sing the melody and we'd have harmony lines all 
over the bloody place, but it was great: you each had to learn 
this new tune. And then George would have another tune. 
Really quite cool. But we were used to doing it, so the minute 
we all sang it together it was, 'Oh, oh, that's good!' We'd 
sometimes stray to each other's lines, but we had enough 
discipline. It was like, 'Yeah, we can do this.'"

This ability to think on one's feet and apply discipline (and, of 
course, just a little talent) began to spill over into their 
individual instrumental contributions. McCartney's bass lines 
became more exciting, perhaps drawing on that experience of 
weaving different vocal lines together. "As time went on, I 
began to realize you didn't have to play just the root notes. If it 
was *C*, *F*, *G*, then it was normally *C*, *F*, *G* that I 
played. But I started to realize you could be pulling on the *G*, 
or just stay on the *C* when it went into *F*. And then I took it 
beyond that. I thought, Well, if you can do that, what else could 
you do, how much further could you take it? You might even 
be able to play notes that aren't in the chord. I just started to 

Those experiments gradually led McCartney to come up with 
bass lines where he played an independent line against the 
arrangement. "Michelle" (recorded November 1965) is often 
cited as an early example of this trend. "That was actually 
thought up on the spot," Paul reveals. "I would never have 
played 'Michelle' on bass until I had to record the bass line. 
Bass isn't an instrument you sit around and sing to. I don't, 
anyway. But I remember that opening six-note phrase against 
the descending chords in 'Michelle'--that was like, oh, a great 
moment in my life. I think I had enough musical experience 
after years of playing, so it was just in me. I realized I could do 
that. It's quite a well-known trick--I'm sure jazz players have 
done that against a descending sequence--but wherever I got it 
from, something in the back of my brain said, 'Do that. It's a bit 
more clever for the arrangement, and it'll really sound good on 
those descending chords.'"

By this time, McCartney had added a left-handed Rickenbacker 
4001S to his trusty Hofner for studio sessions, but he stuck 
with the Hofner for live work. "I was known for the violin 
shape," he says. "It's like Charlie Chaplin, you know? The little 
walking cane, mustache, and a bowler hat, and he's Charlie. If 
he comes on with a bandanna and he's shaved and he's on a 
bike, it's like, 'Who's that?' So I think there may have been an 
element of the Hofner being a stage trademark. Also, it was 
very light and I'd always played it live, so I might have been 
playing safe a bit, just using the instrument I'd always used."

Paul had been given the new Rickenbacker bass on the Beatles' 
August 1965 U.S. tour, and he started using it in the studio 
during October and November to record songs for *Rubber 
Soul*. From that point on, he would alternate in the studio 
between the Rickenbacker and the Hofner, although by the 
time he recorded the superb "lead bass" parts for *Sgt. Pepper* 
at the end of 1966 and into 1967, he was using the 
Rickenbacker as his main studio instrument.

Does he remember receiving the Rickenbacker? "Well, once we 
got to America we were quite famous, and Mr. Rickenbacker 
arrived and said, 'John, we'd like to give you a presentation 
Rickenbacker," and, 'Paul, we have a bass.' Oh, great! Freebie. 
Thank you very much! But it's very difficult to remember 
much about the Beatle tours, because when you weren't 
playing you were off, and you were either being whisked 
around or having a party. Actually, remembering it the 
morning after was difficult--never mind 30 years after!" *[Ed. 
Note: "Mr. Rickenbacker" was F.C. Hall, the head of 
Rickenbacker at the time. According to John C. Hall, F.C.'s son 
and the current president of the company, the presentations to 
Lennon and McCartney were actually separate events that took 
place about a year apart.]*

Paul says the long-scale Rickenbacker felt different and stayed 
in tune better than the Hofner. "It sounded a little clearer, too," 
he adds, "and it seemed a little heavier--not just literally 
heavier, but it played a little more solid than the Hofner." Paul 
says that from *Rubber Soul* onwards "it could have easily 
swung either way" between using the Hofner or the 

I show him a picture from the *Rubber Soul* sessions where 
he's clearly using a capo on the Rickenbacker bass. "What am I 
doing there?" he asks. Um, I rather hoped he'd be able to tell 
me. "Well," he laughs, "the thing with the bass on a lot of this 
stuff was that I'd try anything once. So... I'll try a capo. I often 
do that when I'm writing a song--stick a capo on just so it's a 
different instrument than the one I normally play. Everything 
goes up a little bit and goes more tingly, and you get a song 
that reflects that. So it may well have been that we'd written a 
song on guitars in a certain key, so I only knew it in that key. 
Or maybe it was to get a higher sound. I often used to tune the 
strings down a tone, too, so the *E* would become a *D*. You'd 
have to be careful how hard you hit them, but it was kind of 
interesting. I would just mess around with any experimental 
effects. I'd try anything!"

By the time of *Revolver* (recorded April-June 1966), 
McCartney's bass playing had become wonderfully fluent, 
roaming pretty much wherever he wanted. "Rain," released on 
a single during that period, is an all-time killer bass track. And, 
when *Sgt. Pepper* appeared in 1967, rock bass playing moved 
up another discernible notch. By that time, McCartney was 
using the Rickenbacker almost exclusively in the studio, and its 
directness and clarity aided his new quest for distinctive bass 

"Now I was thinking that maybe I could even run a little tune 
through the chords that doesn't exist anywhere else," he 
remembers. "Maybe I can have an independent melody? *Sgt. 
Pepper* ended up being my strongest thing on bass--the 
independent melodies. On 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' for 
example, you could easily have had root notes, whereas I was 
running an independent melody through it, and that became 
my thing. It's really only a way of getting from *C* to *F* or 
whatever, but you get there in an interesting way. So once I got 
over the fact that I was lumbered with bass, I did get quite 
proud to be a bass player. It was all very exciting.

"Once you realized the control you had over the band, you were 
in control. They can't go anywhere, man. Ha! Power! I then 
started to identify with other bass players and talk bass with 
the guys in the bands. In fact, when we met Elvis he was trying 
to learn bass, so I was like, 'You're trying to learn bass are you
.. son? Sit down, let me show you a few things.' So I was very 
proud of being the bass player. As it went on and got into that 
melodic thing, that was probably the peak of my interest."

I suggest to McCartney that he was probably responsible for 
more people becoming aware of the power and potential of 
bass guitar in the mid-to-late '60s than anyone else. "I 
wouldn't personally credit myself, but thanks for that," he says. 
"But part of it, yes. I think Jamerson, him and me, I'd share the 
credit there. I was nicking a lot off him. That was the thing, 
though--it did become a lot more of a funky instrument. It was 
becoming almost like a drum, the rhythmic possibilities. It was 
very exciting, that. And I became very proud to be *the bass 
player in the Beatles*."

Around the time that the group recorded *Magical Mystery 
Tour* (April-December 1967), Paul's Rickenbacker got a 
psychedelic paint job--take a close look in the film and you'll 
see the hippy-dippy colors. "Yep, I got out the old aerosols," 
Paul confirms. "We were all doing that: George did his guitar, 
and we did the cars. If you did the cars, you might as well do 
your guitars. It looked great. It was just 'cause we were 
tripping--that's what it was, man. Look at your guitar and 
you'd trip even more. I sort of grew out of that, like most 
people did. But you know, I'm a bit of a visual man. I paint a 
lot; I've been painting for about the last ten years, and we were 
always involved in album covers and fashions. John went to art 
school, Stuart was a painter... ." And Ringo? "Ringo was a 
drummer," he laughs, "but he could paint a nice apartment: two 
coats, one afternoon."

Despite McCartney's own estimation that his bass playing 
reached a creative peak with *Sgt. Pepper*, the group's last 
three albums--*The Beatles* ("The White Album"; recorded 
MayPOctober 1968), *Let It Be* (JanuaryPMay 1969) and 
*Abbey Road * (AprilPAugust 1969)--are not exactly 
undistinguished when it comes to bass. My personal favorites 
include the insistent line underpinning "Dear Prudence" from 
*The Beatles* and the swooping, joyous part on "I Want You 
(She's So Heavy)" from *Abbey Road*. *[Ed. Note: And who 
could forget that fantastic lick from "Come Together"?]*

As you might imagine, when the Beatles shut up shop in 1970, 
McCartney felt a huge void in his life. "That was difficult, all the 
business shit and all that. It was very difficult to suddenly not 
be in the Beatles, after your whole life except your childhood 
had been involved with being in this very successful group. I 
always say I can really identify with unemployed people, 
because once it was clear we weren't doing the Beatles 
anymore I got real withdrawals and had serious problems. I 
just thought, Fuck it, I'm not even getting up, don't even ring, 
don't set the alarm. I started drinking, not shaving, just didn't 
care, as if I'd had a major tragedy in my life and was grieving. 
And I was."

Gradually he began to get out of that, greatly helped by the 
support of his wife. "She'd say, 'Come on, this can't go on too 
long, you know. You're good. You're either going to stop doing 
music or you'd better get on with it.' So then we started to put 
little things together, and it sort of got me back into being 
interested in music. It got rid of a bit of the fear of, well, how 
do you follow the Beatles?"

The answer, of course, was Wings. Although McCartney could 
have assumed any role he wished in that band, he chose to be 
the bass player. Why? "Because I always approach a tour by 
thinking as if I'm not there: 'Well, this geezer McCartney's going 
on tour. What would I like to see him do? Well, I'd like to see 
him play bass. He's good on that old bass.' So I'd think: I must 
play bass. The people in the audience would expect me to play 
bass. And they'd probably want me to do 'Yesterday,' so we'll 
sling that in somewhere. With early Wings I didn't--I'd had 
enough of that--but now I would do it, because it goes down 
well. I'm the opposite of Bob Dylan. I know [guitarist] G.E. 
Smith, who played with him, and apparently they'd say, 'Oh 
Bob, "Tambourine Man" went down great tonight, fantastic.' 
And that meant he wouldn't do it--he'd knock it out [of the set] 
the next night. I think I'm less complex than that. If it went 
down well, I leave it in."

Paul looks back on his bass playing in the Wings period as less 
pioneering than the Beatles days. "I think it was okay, but I 
never quite had the interest I had during that period around 
*Rubber Soul* and *Sgt. Pepper*. I think that was a 'prize 
period' when I was playing my best bass. I could concentrate 
everything on writing the song, singing harmony with John, 
and playing the bass--pretty much my role--or maybe playing 
a bit of piano or guitar or something. Other than that I really 
didn't have much to do, so I could put all my energy into that. 
After that I sidelined the role of bass a bit, in favor of the role 
of frontman. It was not really my favorite thing to do, but 
there was nothing else to do. With Wings, I was the bandleader, 
the business manager, the this, the that. We didn't have Apple, 
we didn't have [Beatles' manager Brian] Epstein, we didn't have 
anything--it was me doing it all. That was the biggest 
headache. In the Beatles, I'd been free of all of that; we had a 
manager, and we had three other great guys.

"Now I'm 52 years old, and when we went on this recent tour, 
we'd be going for two hours. With the Beatles we did about 25 
minutes, if you were lucky--and I did only about ten minutes, 
because John would do ten, George would do a bit, Ringo'd do a 
song, and we'd be off. And we'd do it quicker if we were 
annoyed--we'd be off in 20 minutes. If you think about it, I 
was 20-odd then and I was doing maybe 15 minutes. It's 
incredible that I can even handle two hours. But life goes on--
there it is. I'm still at it."

Paul has been seen with a variety of basses over those years, 
including a Jazz Bass and a Yamaha BB-series model, but a 
more recent newcomer was a Wal 5-string that he seems very 
pleased with. "We had these jams in Docklands in London that 
turned into *The Russian Album*, and Trevor Horn showed up 
one time. I knew him as a producer, but he told me he used to 
be a bass player in a ballroom-type show band before [he was 
in] Buggles. So he showed up, and he had a Wal 5-string bass. I 
said, 'Oh, that's cool: low B, great.' So I got one too, based on his 
recommendation, and I really like it.

"My favorite thing I've done recently on it was the new Beatles 
record we've made ['Free Like a Bird'], which is really cool. I 
don't want to build it up too much because we've got to sit on it 
for a while, because it's for this big TV series, *The Beatles 
Anthology*. There's a thing called 'anticipointment'--have you 
heard of that? It's a good word. You build up [a movie like] 
*ET* or *Four Weddings and a Funeral* so much, and then you 
go to see it and it's like, Well, I didn't think it was that good. 
It's never quite as good as people say--so I'm keeping a little 
bit cool. But I think we've done well.

"To do this song, we took a cassette of John's, not multitracked, 
but exactly like that," he says, pointing at my little Sony 
recorder. "It was him and piano, interlocked. You couldn't pull 
the fader down and get rid of the piano--they're there. And I 
mean--not being boastful--with [producer] Jeff Lynne, we did a 
really good job. We recorded it here: me, George, and Ringo. I 
played the Wal, and what I liked was I played very, very 
normal bass, really out of the way, because I didn't want to 
'feature.' There are one or two moments where I break a little 
bit loose, but mostly I try to anchor the track. There's one 
lovely moment when it modulates to *C*, so I was able to use 
the low *C* of the 5-string--and that's it, the only time I use 
the low one, which I like, rather than just bassing out and 
being low, low, low. I play normal bass, and then there's this 
low *C* and the song takes off. It actually takes off anyway 
because a lot of harmonies come in and stuff, but it's a real cool 
moment that I'm proud of. That's my Wal moment."

Wasn't it strange playing along with John Lennon's cassette? "It was 
very strange and it was very magic; it was very spooky and it was very 
wonderful. Before the session we were talking about it, and I was trying 
to help set it up, because we never even knew if we could be in a room 
together, never mind make music together after all these years. So I was 
talking to Ringo about how we'd do it, and he said it may even be joyous. 
And it was--it was really cool. We pulled it off, that's the thing. And I 
don't care what anyone says. We could work together. We did a 
bit of technical stuff on the tape, to make it work, and Jeff 
Lynne was very good. We had Geoff Emerick, our old Beatle 
engineer; he's solid, really great. He knows how Ringo's snare 
should sound."

No George Martin? "George wasn't involved, no. George doesn't 
want to produce much any more 'cause his hearing's not as 
good as it used to be. He's a very sensible guy, and he says 
[plummy voice again]: 'Look, Paul, I like to do a proper job,' and 
if he doesn't feel he's up to it he won't do it. It's very noble of 
him, actually--most people would take the money and run."

Since this interview was done, the Beatles reunited again to 
record two more tracks, although no plans have been 
announced concerning the release of this new material. 
Another recent event that's been widely reported in the press 
was Paul's reconciliation with Yoko Ono and the recording, at 
Paul's studio, of an Ono piece as performed by the McCartney 
family (Paul, Linda, and their children Mary, Stella, Heather, 
and James) along with Yoko Ono and Sean Ono Lennon. The 
piece, "Hiroshima Sky Is Always Blue," was recorded in one 
take, mixed by McCartney, and turned over to Yoko. Paul 
reportedly played the Bill Black upright bass, and he was 
quoted in *Rolling Stone* as saying the proceedings were "quite 
strange, lovely strange."

Paul says that he, Harrison, and Starr have done a lot of 
interviews together for the *Anthology* film, with the intention 
of setting a few myths straight. Although, as he points out, that 
doesn't always work. "Funniest thing is that we don't always 
agree on the memories, because it was 30 years ago. It can be 
hilarious--and it's on camera. There's one bit where Ringo's 
telling a story, and he says, 'At that point George had a sore 
throat ... ' and the camera pans to George. George says, 'I 
thought it was Paul,' and the camera pans to me, and I say, 
'Well I know it was John.' I've worked it out since: If Ringo 
thought it was George, it wasn't Ringo; if George thought it was 
me, it wasn't George; and if I thought it was John, it wasn't me. 
It must have been John--he's the only one left! But this is 
funny, for the definitive bloody thing on the Beatles. You've 
just got to laugh. It's so fucking human, so real. We forget--who 
cares? We did some great stuff. But exact analysis was never 
our bag."	                        

*Live at the BBC*, the two-CD release of early recordings made 
by the Beatles for broadcast by the British Broadcasting 
Corporation, provides us with a wonderful portrait of the 
group's evolution from 1963 to 1965. This was a critical period 
in the development of the Beatles--and in the development of 
the electric bass. As you listen to these quickly recorded live 
tunes, you can hear Paul move away from the simple bass 
patterns he learned from early R&B and country music and 
begin to develop the melodic, contrapuntal style that would 
soon become his trademark.

Unfortunately, the tracks are not arranged in chronological 
order, so it takes a bit of skipping around to trace the evolution 
of McCartney's style. On the earliest cuts, such as "Keep Your 
Hands Off My Baby" (recorded January 1963), the bass playing 
is rudimentary: Paul's sound is blurry, and he sticks to root-5th 
alternation broken up by the simplest of fills. Even so, you can 
tell he has a good feel for bass playing, and the other 
instrumental parts, even at this point, seem to hinge on his 
lines. By July 1963, Paul's lines are beginning to progress, and 
he occasionally breaks up the root-5th patterns with walking 
lines and pumping triadic figures. Something is going on.

McCartney's bass playing really began to blossom as the Beatles 
wrote more original material. The BBC version of "I Saw Her 
Standing There," recorded in October 1963, is a big step 
forward--Paul's playing is more imaginative and has terrific 
rhythmic drive. And, on a cover of "Johnny B. Goode" recorded 
in January 1964, we hear a bass line that develops continually 
throughout the song, becoming more and more complex 
without ever losing the groove--a characteristic of many of the 
lines played by Paul's hero, James Jamerson.

Everything comes together on the version of "All My Loving" 
that was recorded at the Piccadilly Theatre, London, on 
February 28, 1964. The walking line under the verses is 
surprisingly sophisticated (especially since Paul is singing the 
lead vocal) and the bass line just drives the band. It's 
essentially the same part that McCartney had played on the 
studio version of the song (recorded six months earlier), but 
the playing on this live track is much more confident and much 
more prominent in the mix. For my money, it's the first truly 
great Paul McCartney bass line--and a sure sign of what was to 
come.	--Jim Roberts

When Paul McCartney goes out on that long and winding road, 
he still takes along his '63 Hofner 500/1 violin bass (right)--the 
instrument the rest of the world calls a "Beatle Bass." It's 
essentially the same as it was when he got it, aside from some 
recent work done by Mandolin Bros. to improve the intonation. 
And it still has the set list from the Beatles' last live show in 
1966 taped to the side. These days, Paul brings along his Wal 
5-string as well. Strings are by Rotosound or LaBella, and 
McCartney uses no effects. When he picks up a guitar, Paul uses 
a Pete Cornish switching system to reroute his signal--and 
Hamish Stuart takes over the bass duties, usually on a Jazz Bass 
or a Music Man StingRay 5. McCartney's amplifier is a MESA/
Boogie system with a Bass 400 head, a Strategy 400 running as 
a slave, and two cabinets: a 2x15 and a 1516 (one 15, one 10, 
two 6s, and a bullet tweeter). His wireless is a Samson.                                    
--Jim Roberts

There are so many Beatles recordings, and they have been 
issued so many different ways, that it's a bit tricky trying to 
make recommendations. But I'll take a whack at it anyway.

The Beatles records are manufactured and distributed by 
Capitol in the U.S. and EMI in the U.K., so I'll dispense with label 
information. As was noted in the interview, the original vinyl 
LPs in the U.S. were usually quite different from the U.K. LPs, 
although the CD reissues are uniform--they conform to the 
original British LPs. If you're a completist and money is no 
object, then all you have to do is acquire *The Beatles Box Set*, 
a 16-CD behemoth that has everything. Done. On the other 
hand, if you're on a tight budget, the best choice is probably 
the two compilations called *1962-1966* and *1967-1970*; 
these two-CD sets (packaged in red and blue, respectively) 
offer an excellent selection, although many noteworthy songs 
are missing. I'd suggest a middle route: Start with the *1962-
1966* set, because it covers most of the high points from the 
early years. Then add individual albums, beginning with the 
essential releases from what Paul calls his "prize period" as a 
bass player: *Rubber Soul*, *Revolver*, and *Sgt. Pepper's 
Lonely Hearts Club Band*. There's a little overlap, because 
*1962-1966* has some tracks from *Rubber Soul* and 
*Revolver*, but it's well worth acquiring those albums in their 
entirety. Of the subsequent releases, *The Beatles* ("The White 
Album") and *Abbey Road* are must-haves, although there are 
some great songs on *Magical Mystery Tour* and a few cool 
things on the erratic *Let It Be*. Even with all that, you won't 
have some examples of McCartney's best bass work (like 
"Rain"), so you may want to investigate such collections as *Hey 
Jude* and *Past Masters, Vol. 2*.

The best way to sort out all of this--and to learn more about 
the fascinating work the Beatles did in the studio--is to pick up 
a copy of *The Beatles Recording Sessions* by Mark Lewisohn 
[Harmony]. This amazing book lists every Beatles recording 
session, tells you what was done and by whom, and puts 
everything into perspective. At the end, there's an exhaustive 
discography with every U.S. and U.K. Beatles' release on singles, 
EPs, and albums (well, all the ones up to 1988, when the book 
was published).

Of course, Paul McCartney has done lots of work since he left 
the Beatles, beginning with his first solo album, *McCartney*, in 
1970. Herewith a selection:

Solo albums: (all on Capitol) *Paul Is Live*; *Unplugged (The 
Official Bootleg)*; *Choba B CCCP--The Russian Album*; 
*Tripping the Live Fantastic*; *Off the Ground*; *Flowers in the 
Dirt*; *All the Best*; *McCartney II*; *Press to Play*; *Tug of 
War*; *Pipes of Peace*; *Give My Regards to Broad Street*; 
*Ram*; *McCartney*. With Wings: (all on Capitol) *Red Rose 
Speedway*; *Wings Greatest*; *Wild Life*; *Wings at the Speed 
of Sound*; *London Town*; *Wings Over America*; *Venus & 
Mars*; *Band on the Run*; *Back to the Egg*; *Live & Let Die* 
soundtrack. With Elvis Costello: *Spike*, Warner Bros. With 
James Taylor: *Walking Man*, Warner Bros.; *James Taylor*, 
Capitol. With various artists: *Prince's Trust 10th Anniversary 
Birthday Party*, A&M; *Rock for Amnesty*, Mercury.     --Jim 

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